De Weldon’s Pieta

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The Edith Allen Clark (1883-1965) polished black granite monument at the Metairie Cemetery at New Orleans, Louisiana, features a large circular bronze sculpture of the Virgin Mary and the dead body of Jesus Christ, known as a pieta, surrounded by more than a dozen cherubs.

Works of art, usually sculptures, depicting this subject first began to appear in Germany in the 1300s and are referred to as “vesperbild” in German.  Images of Mary and the dead body of Jesus began to appear in Italy in the 1400s. The most famous of these sculptures is Michelangelo’s pieta which he sculpted for St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, carved when he was only 24 years old.  Pieta is Italian for “pity.”  The bronze is reminiscent of the sculptures that were first popularized in Germany depicting the Lamentation.

In the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/2001.78 (October 2006)) a Bohemian Pieta on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is described in details that as easily could apply to the monument in Metairie Cemetery, “Images of the Virgin with the dead Christ reflect late medieval developments in mysticism that encouraged a direct, emotional involvement in the biblical stories… The sculptor exploits the formal and psychological tensions inherent in the composition…Christ’s broken, emaciated body, naked except for the loincloth, offers a stark contrast to the Virgin’s youthful figure, clad in abundant folds.”

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This particular bronze was sculpted by the famed artist Felix Weihs de Weldon (1907-2003), who created over 1200 sculptures that can be found on all seven continents.  He was, however, best known for the great and dramatic 100-ton bronze statue based on the iconic photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal on February 23, 1945, when six soldiers raised the flag over Iwo Jima.  De Weldon was directed to create a realistic memorial.  Three of those soldiers who lifted the flag modeled for De Weldon.  The other three soldiers had died in various actions after the flag was raised, so he created their images from photograpghs.  The sculpture, officially titled, United States Marine Corps War Memorial, pays tribute to the brave soldiers who raised the flag that day at Iwo Jima.

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